Residents opposed to sewer project deliver petition

NEW MANCHESTER – Residents of Westlake Lane opposed to a proposed sanitary sewer project said they delivered a petition to the Hancock County Public Service District on Friday asking the agency to reconsider its plans.

“The majority of us do not want it,” said Westlake Lane resident Joyce Zoellers, “and if there are other places (in Hancock County) that need it, they might use the funding for those areas.”

Zoellers said 73 percent of the residents – 27 out of 37 households – signed the petition, saying they do not want sewer lines extended to their homes. The houses on Westlake Lane, a winding, narrow road in central Hancock County, all have septic systems.

A group of residents decided to circulate the opposition petition after hearing on Monday that there was a petition in support of the project, Zoellers said.

“I spoke with the residents, and not one person has ever signed a petition in support of, or has ever been asked to sign a petition in support of, the sewer project,” she said.

District Chairman Bill Mackall said he hasn’t seen the opposition petition but heard it was to be delivered to the district’s office on Wylie Ridge Road on Friday.

“Until I see it, I don’t have anything to say about it,” Mackall said.

The district board will likely discuss the petition and residents’ wishes at their next regular meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 14, he said.

“If there’s a majority of the people that do not want it, there’s no way we’re going to push it down their throats – unless there’s problems with their sewage,” Mackall said. “I’m sure the board will sit down and come up with whatever we need to do.”

The district is proposing to extend sanitary sewer services to 208 customers on Westlake Lane, U.S. Route 30 from Taylor Road to the Pennsylvania line, and a small section of state Route 8. Although mostly residential, the project also would include some businesses on U.S. 30.

With a price tag of $8.2 million, the project would be funded by a combination of grants and low-interest loans from the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, said Paul Ghosh of Paul Ghosh Engineers Inc. in Charleston.

Ghosh and district officials met with Westlake Lane residents on Monday to discuss the project and answer questions. It was at that meeting, held at the New Manchester Volunteer Fire Department, that residents first expressed their objections to the project.

Mackall said he initially was “dumbfounded” at the negative reaction.

“Afterward, we talked with a few of them. I think a lot of them who were dead set against it were looking at it a little differently,” he said.

If the project goes forward, it would be the latest in a series of sewer system expansions in Hancock County. The district currently provides sanitary sewer services to about 1,500 customers in unincorporated portions of Hancock County. Its last big project, completed in 2009, extended sewer lines to 674 customers along state Route 8.

Although district officials were under the impression that residents on Westlake Lane wanted sewer lines, some residents say the service is unnecessary and too costly.

“We just really don’t want that extra expense,” said one woman who asked that her name not be used.

She and her husband have been living on Westlake Lane since 1963, and their septic system has always worked fine for them, she said.

“If we have a problem with it, we just take care of it,” she said, noting that she signed the petition.

Zoellers said she got involved in the petition effort so district officials would have correct information.

“We wanted to show them they were misinformed,” she said. “Our hope is that they would look into it further and make a decision based on correct information – that the majority do not want it.”

The project is still years away from completion. The design phase will take up most of this year, and the permitting and bidding phase will take another year, Ghosh said. Actual construction, provided the project receives final approval from the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, is set to begin in 2015.

Customers can expect a rate increase in 2016, once the project is complete and online.

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